Sunglasses On or Off: Which Is It?


Imagine driving down the road on a bright, sunny day when you are pulled over by a local police officer. The officer writes a citation because you’re not wearing your sunglasses. You finish up with the officer and pull away. Ten minutes later you are stopped again. This time you get a citation for wearing your sunglasses.

It sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? But this could actually happen to drivers in England, at least in theory. England’s highway code makes it a crime to not slow down or pull over if bright sunlight interferes with your vision. But it is also against the law to wear certain kinds of sunglasses while driving. So under the right conditions, you could be damned if you do and damned if you don’t, so to speak.

For the record, there is no evidence that police in England are using the highway code to arbitrarily give people a hard time. Yet the point is still well taken. If you were caught driving without sunglasses and being significantly impaired by the sunshine, you could face immediate fines of up to $135 plus 3 points added to your license. If your case went to court, your fine can go as high as $3,380. The same is true if you were caught wearing a pair of unapproved sunglasses behind the wheel.

What Constitutes Approved Sunglasses

English law categorizes sunglasses based on the amount of visible light they allow through. According to Gloucester Live, most sunglasses in the UK fall under category 2. They filter between 18% and 43% of visible light; they are perfectly legal for driving. On the other hand, category 4 sunglasses are not allowed for driving. They allow less than 8% of visible light through, significantly impairing your vision.

Tint can also be a problem for English drivers. Especially troublesome are variable tint lenses that change with the amount of visible light. They are not a problem when worn under normal circumstances, but they can become a big problem when you’re driving. It all depends on the tint of your windshield.

A modern car windshield is already designed to filter out UV rays and some visible light. Depending on how a windshield is constructed, the combination of its light-filtering properties and a pair of variable tint lenses could impair a driver’s vision enough to be unsafe. As such, drivers are not allowed to use variable tint sunglasses behind the wheel.

Meanwhile, Across the Pond

The strange laws regulating how drivers can operate vehicles in England aren’t limited to sunglasses. There are even laws dictating whether you can drive barefoot or wearing flip-flops. Here in the States, we don’t take things so seriously. At least that’s the impression you get from some states with rather lax highway codes.

So, do sunglasses really make a difference when you’re driving? Olympic Eyewear, a Salt Lake City designer and distributor of more than a dozen brands, says they could. Sunglasses with too dark a tint could impair vision enough to be unsafe. On the other hand, sunglasses that are designed with little regard for UV protection may not be good for the eyes. So it can go either way.

Olympic Eyewear advises purchasing sunglasses based first on the amount of UV protection they offer. Next, consider the tint. Avoid sunglasses with a tint so dark that they noticeably impair your vision. Only after UV protection and tint have been considered should you think about fashion sense. The long-term health of your eyes and your ability to see are much more important than what you look like.

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